Thursday, September 14, 2006

I realize I'm somewhat late to the party, talking about the FIBA World Championship basketball tournament two weeks after it ended. Other things have intruded. But I have a few things to say and a few minutes to say them now.

First things first. This edition of Team USA had no business coming in third. This team should have won, plain and simple. Yes, it wasn't perfect. Yes, a pure shooter might have been a nice complement to Wade, James and Anthony. A player like Bruce Bowen might have provided a more dependable perimeter defender than some of the team members. But there is no way that there was another team that was as talented, and as deep as the US.

Our old friend Bob Ryan was determined to let those of us who were not sufficiently initiated into the mysteries of Dr. Naismith's sport and so deemed this third place finish a disaster know that he was right and we were wrong. The phenomenon of basketball globalization is to blame for Team USA's recent lack of success in international competition. In short, players all across the world are better now than they ever were in the past.

Of course, it is widely acknowledged that Pau Gasol is 18 to 20 times better than the best American playing in the NBA, which accounts for the amazing run of success his teams have enjoyed in their postseason forays. To date, they have yet to win a single game. And I was just one of many who pointed out that Dirk Nowitzki came up small in the biggest moments of this season's NBA Finals. Foreign players are better than the teams that the US squashed in 1992 and 1996 and beat in 2000. But are they better than Americans? I don't think so.

We know that there was one key decision that set the US up for failure. They didn't include one pure shooter on the roster. There is a little known fact that only men like Bob Ryan know. A pure shooter can never go cold. A guy like Reggie Miller or Michael Redd would never have had a game where they shot 0-10 or 1-11 when the team needed him. Reggie Miller would have shot 11-10 or 13-8 or some other percentage which is patently impossible for the other 6 billion or so individuals who are bound in space and time by the laws of physics and nature.

Of course there are those who know how to fix things. Mark Cuban revealed his a ten point plan in an interview which he reprinted on blogMaverick. His first point is that one set of rules should prevail in basketball, either play American basketball by international rules or international basketball by NBA rules. That makes some sense, but athletes like the ones who made up this team should be able to adapt in short order. It's not exactly like the officials and the other teams made up the rules as they went along.

Another point is that the US sent its first Dream Team into a vacuum, following the implosion of the Soviet Union. I would be willing to bet that that team would have devastated any team of professionals from any country, even if they were forced to play shorthanded. That team had incredible talent, incredible competitiveness and incredible leadership. They would have found a way to beat anybody.

One guy who has gotten a pass in this disaster is the legendary coach. Where was Coach K when we needed him? This team seemed like they were well prepared for every eventuality but one. They weren't ready for some team to weather their run, and they come back swinging like the Greeks did, hitting their first 10 shots of the third quarter. And here's an idea...if your team isn't shooting well from three point land, maybe you could tell them not to take so many three point shots. Believe it or not, there are other ways to score in basketball.

I thought Elton Brand did a nice job summing up what the US team needs going forward. Particularly because he discounts the value of the designated savior (take your pick from Kobe, KG, Ray Allen, Gilbert Arenas or Player X). If there is one guy who needs to go, it's Battier. Without Duke getting calls by reputation, he (and Coach K) aren't the dominant forces that some believed they might be. Bruce Bowen is a better defender. Not much of an offensive player, but he might know a bit about the pick and roll.

More zone is a good idea. More size to counter the pick and roll is also a good plan. But it doesn't necessarily mean bringing in new people. Maybe Elton Brand could have played more minutes, and less center. Of course, one can easily forgive Coach K for not utilizing Brand as effectively as he could have. After all, with the healthy culture that pervades youth basketball and college recruiting, it's not like Coach K saw the balance of Brand's high school games. Oh wait, he did. Instead of adding more weapons, it might be a good idea to use the ones you have. And a halftime adjustment or timely timeout might not hurt.

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